According to a Financial Times report, a presentation circulated among Nestle executives said a majority of its food portfolio doesn't pass international standards.

An empty grovery store aisle with foodstuffs on the shelves
news Food Wednesday, June 02, 2021 - 13:51

The world's largest food company, Nestle, has acknowledged that more than 60% of its mainstream food and drinks products do not meet a "recognised definition of health" and that "some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy no matter how much we renovate", the Financial Times reported. A presentation circulated among the top executives this year, seen by the Financial Times, said only 37% of Nestle's food and beverages by revenues, excluding products such as pet food and specialised medical nutrition, achieve a rating above 3.5 under Australia's health star rating system.

This system scores food out of five stars and is used in research by international groups such as the Access to Nutrition Foundation. As per the report, Nestle, the maker of KitKat, Maggi and Nescafe, describes the 3.5 star threshold as a "recognised definition of health". The report said that within its overall food and drink portfolio, about 70% of Nestle's food products failed to meet that threshold, the presentation said, along with 96% of beverages — excluding pure coffee — and 99% of Nestle's confectionery and ice cream portfolio.

Water and dairy products scored slightly better, with 82% of water and 60% of dairy products meeting the threshold. "We have made significant improvements to our products... [but] our portfolio still underperforms against external definitions of health in a landscape where regulatory pressure and consumer demands are skyrocketing," the presentation said. The data excludes baby formula, pet food, coffee and the health science division, which makes foods for people with specific medical conditions. This means the data accounts for about half of Nestle's Swiss Francs 92.6 billion (72.7 billion pound) total annual revenues. The report said the findings come as foodmakers contend with a global push to combat obesity and promote healthier eating.

Executives at Nestle are reportedly considering what new commitments to make on nutrition and are aiming to unveil plans this year. The group is also updating its internal nutrition standards, known as the Nestle Nutritional Foundation, that were introduced under former chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who characterised Nestle as a "nutrition, health and wellness company". One option could be to drop or replace these standards for products seen as treats, such as confectionery, according to a person familiar with the situation, as per the report.

Mark Schneider, Chief Executive, Nestle, has acknowledged that consumers want a healthier diet but rejected claims that "processed" food, including those made by Nestle and other multinationals, tend to be unhealthy. However, the presentation highlights Nestle products such as a DiGiorno three meat croissant crust pizza, which includes about 40% of a person's recommended daily allowance of sodium, and a Hot Pockets pepperoni pizza that contains 48%, the report said.

Another product, an orange-flavoured San Pellegrino drink, scores an ‘E' – the worst mark available under a different scoring system Nutri-Score – with more than 7.1 grams of sugar per 100 ml, the presentation says, asking: "Should a health-forward brand carry an E [rating]?"

Separately, Nestle's strawberry-flavoured Nesquik, which is sold in the US, contains 14 grams of sugar in a 14 gram serving, though it is designed to be mixed with milk. It is described as "perfect at breakfast to get kids ready for the day".

Nestle said it "is working on a company-wide project to update its pioneering nutrition and health strategy. We are looking at our entire portfolio across the different phases of people's lives to ensure our products are helping meet their nutritional needs and supporting a balanced diet".

"Our efforts build on a strong foundation of work over decades ... For example, we have reduced the sugars and sodium in our products significantly in the past two decades, about 14-15% in the past seven years alone," it said.

“As we consider our future nutrition strategy, we are first focusing on assessing the part of our food and beverage portfolio that can be measured against external nutrition profiling systems. Systems like the Health Star Rating and Nutri-Score are useful in this regard and enable consumers to make informed choices. However, they don’t capture everything. About half of our sales are not covered by these systems. That includes categories such as infant nutrition, specialized health products and pet food, which follow regulated nutrition standards,” Nestle’s statement further added.

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